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Jean Spencer

Born: 1942. Died: 1998. Nationality: British.

Jean Spencer studied at the Bath Academy of Art and the University of Sussex.

For more than thirty years she combined teaching with her career as an artist; from 1969-1988 at Bulmershe College of Higher Education, becoming Head of the Art Department in 1980. She was appointed Tutor at the Slade School of Art in 1988, eventually becoming Reader in Fine Art in 1995.

She was introduced to ‘systematic constructionism’, which was to be the enduring inspiration for her work, by one of her tutors at Bath Academy of Art, Malcolm Hughes – whom she was later to marry. With him she was a founder member of the Systems Group of artists in 1969, a group devoted to an art based on rationality and the use of mathematical systems. They were following in the footsteps of the 1950s Constructionists whose main exponents in this country were Victor Pasmore, Anthony Hill and Kenneth and Mary Martin. The Systems Group has its first exhibition at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol in 1971, followed by an Arts Council show at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1972. The group disbanded in 1976.

Much of Spencer's early work took the form of white reliefs in which the rhythm of shapes and forms, organised according to mathematical rules, was defined by the fall of light and shadow. In the late 1970s her work changed as she explored the colour investigations and theorising of earlier artists in the constructivist tradition, including Malevich and the Swiss artist Richard Paul Lohse, whose work she particularly admired. Colour became a key preoccupation; her paintings retained a geometrical basis but grafted onto this were combinations of colour from a distinctive personal palette she developed. In these works bands or blocks of colour, the intensity and tonal values of which have been meticulously calculated, are arranged to create a sort of visual dialogue.

Spencer collaborated with many artist groups elsewhere in Europe and was regularly included in exhibitions in Germany, Finland, Sweden, Poland, Austria, Holland and Switzerland. Her work can be found in many collections in the UK, including the Tate Gallery, the Arts Council, Churchill College, Cambridge, Newhall College, Cambridge, Manchester City Art Gallery, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and Southampton City Art Gallery.


Ref: John McGowan (ed) 2006 Jean Spencer: a Retrospective Exhibition (Catalogue), Pub: The Yarrow Gallery, Oundle School.


Untitled (Triptych)
Painting No.3 (Woburn) (Diptych)